Fulke Greville Greville, Fulke - Essay


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Fulke Greville 1554-1628

English poet, nonfiction writer, and playwright.

Best known for his poetry, Greville was a prominent politician and a member of the courts of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. While many of his works are primarily concerned with political issues and religious themes, his best known work, Caelica, a poetry collection published posthumously in 1633, focuses primarily on love. Greville also composed three plays and The Life of the Renowned Sr Philip Sydney (1652), a biography and critical study of the works of that author. Although Greville has remained relatively unknown, a number of commentators have argued that his writings merit greater critical attention, and that his aesthetic and political ideas warrant more study.

Biographical Information

Greville was born on October 3, 1554, to Sir Fulke Greville (also known as Lord Willoughby de Broke) and his wife, Anne Neville, daughter of the earl of Westmoreland. He completed his early education at the school at Shrewsbury, where he began a lasting friendship with Philip Sidney. The two separated to attend college, and Greville continued his studies at Jesus College, Cambridge; biographers surmise that although he attended the university for three or four years, he likely did not receive a degree. After he completed his education, Greville hoped to travel to London and serve in a political capacity at court, rather than spend his life overseeing his family's properties. By the mid-1570s, Greville and Sidney had gained entrance to the court of Queen Elizabeth I and gradually made inroads into the government, aligning themselves with the radical Protestant movement headed by Sidney's uncle, Robert Dudley. At court Greville became associated with Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, who soon became a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. Greville was knighted by Elizabeth in 1597 and was appointed to his first major office, Treasurer of the Navy, in the following year. Although Essex was executed for treason in 1601, Greville's reputation did not suffer by association. Soon after James I succeeded Elizabeth to the throne, Greville retreated to his family estate for a short time, returning to court in 1612. By this time, Greville had begun concentrating more heavily on writing, and composed various treatises in poetic form on such subjects as religion, war, and education. By 1614 Greville had maneuvered himself into the highest positions he would hold in government, including those of Chancellor of the Exchequer and Privy Counselor. Greville held these positions for eight years. In 1620 or 1621, James I named him Baron Brooke, and Greville began to hold offices outside the court, serving in the House of Lords almost until his death. Greville died on September 30, 1628, when a servant, Ralph Haywood, stabbed him in the back because he was dissatisfied with the provisions made for him in Greville's will.

Major Works

While Greville's early writing career is not very well known, it is generally thought by biographers that he did not write much poetry until after Sidney's death in 1586, and that he began writing plays around 1595. Though many of Greville's works reflect his life as a statesman, his best known work, Caelica, a collection of 109 poems, is principally devoted to topics of love. Forty-one of the poems in Caelica are sonnets, while the remaining works represent a variety of poetic forms. Greville's other significant poetic works, such as A Treatise of Monarchy (1609)—which is concerned with such issues as the origins of monarchy, the problems caused by strong and weak rulers, and monarchy as contrasted with other forms of government—are more directly concerned with moral, theological, and political ideas. Political philosophy recurs as a subject in A Treatise of Wars (1633) and An Inquisition upon Fame and Honour (1633). In A Treatise of Humane Learning (1633), Greville explores moral and theological questions, while A Treatise of Religion (1609) delineates the virtues of the authentically religious life. The Life of the Renowned Sr Philip Sydney, which was written in 1610 but not published until 1652, is a biography of Greville's close friend Sidney and a critical evaluation of Sidney's works. In this study Greville also discusses the influence his friend had on his own life and works, and offers commentary on the politics of the time. Greville's three plays also reveal his concern with political matters. Sometimes described as political tragedies, they were written to be read rather than to be acted. Greville's first play, The Tragedy of Mustapha, was published in 1609 but was written much earlier, probably in 1595. The action of the play depicts the struggle of the title character, the son of Soliman the Magnificent, a Turkish sultan, to retain his right of royal succession against accusations of sedition made by his stepmother, Rossa, who desires her own son to succeed to the throne. Alaham (written c. 1599; published 1633) also features treachery in family and court life. At the center of the play is the Sultan of Ormus—who ascended to the throne by murdering his father—and Ormus's wife, Hala, who equals her husband in evil machinations for the purpose of gaining political power. Greville's third play, Antony and Cleopatra, was destroyed by the author in manuscript after Essex's execution in 1601. Greville took this action because the play would have negatively influenced his career at court—its subject, the travails of a man in love with a Queen, closely paralleled the relationship between Essex and Elizabeth.

Critical Reception

Modern scholars contend that Greville has been neglected in the past and continues to be undervalued as a literary figure. Critics such as Fred Inglis argue for the importance of his work, point out his skills as a poet, and maintain that Greville should be classified as a metaphysical poet along with John Donne, Ben Jonson and George Herbert. David A. Roberts, June Dwyer, and Elaine Y. L. Ho have also concerned themselves with examining Greville's poetic aesthetic, exploring his theories on poetry through examination of Caelica and several of his lesser-known works. Caelica has received more critical attention than any other of Greville's works, with scholars such as Gary L. Litt studying the structure of the work, while others, such as Inglis and Ho, consider what the work tells us about Greville's poetic abilities and aesthetic. Caelica and other works by Greville have also been scrutinized by critics such as Joan Rees for what they demonstrate about his political thought and humanistic ideology. G. F. Waller has studied the influence of Protestant divine John Calvin on Greville's works—although some critics maintain that Greville was not a Calvinist, most believe that Calvinism played a profound role in shaping his work. In contrast to his poetry, Greville's plays have been less favorably evaluated and less thoroughly studied, though Peter Ure has examined Greville's use of character in Alaham and The Tragedy of Mustapha. For the most part, critics find these works overwritten and difficult to follow, although some praise is reserved for Greville's ability to portray interesting characters in his dramas. Overall, critics feel that Greville's work deserves further study. Inglis maintains that Greville “… is a great master of technique as well as a master of a particular body of thought, and since such mastery is rare in poetry at any time, Greville deserves much better at our hands than he generally gets today.”

Principal Works

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

*The Remains of Sir Folk Grevill Lord Brooke: Being Poems of Monarchy and Religion: Never Before Printed (poetry) 1609

The Tragedy of Mustapha (play) 1609

Certaine Learned and Elegant Workes (nonfiction, plays, and poetry) 1633

The Life of the Renowned Sr Philip Sydney (nonfiction) 1652

*This volume includes A Treatise of Monarchy and A Treatise of Religion.

†This volumes includes A Treatise of Humane Learning, An Inquisition upon Fame and Honour, A Treatise of Wars, Alaham, Caelica, Letter to an Honorable Lady, and A Letter of Travel.

Nowell Smith (essay date 1907)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Smith, Nowell. Introduction to Sir Fulke Greville's Life of Sir Philip Sidney, pp. v-xxi. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907.

[In the following essay, Smith offers an overview of the publication history of Greville's study of Sidney, along with a critical evaluation of this work.]

Sir Philip Sidney is so familiar and so attractive a name, and Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, so little known outside the libraries of scholars, that the book which is here republished requires a word or two of introduction for the reader who is not already versed in the subject. It was first published in 1652, twenty-four years after its author's death; and the title, The Life of the...

(The entire section is 3734 words.)

Peter Ure (essay date 1950)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Ure, Peter. “Fulke Greville's Dramatic Characters.” In Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, edited by J. C. Maxwell, pp. 104-22. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1974.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1950, Ure analyzes Greville's use of characterization in Alaham and The Tragedy of Mustapha.]

Their conscience fir'd, who doe from God rebell,
Hell first is plac'd in them, then they in Hell.

Sir William Alexander, Doomes-Day: the first Houre


The work of the Elizabethan French Senecans is ‘coterie literature’, and Fulke Greville may well be a bat flying in the...

(The entire section is 7497 words.)

Fred Inglis (essay date 1965)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Inglis, Fred. “Metaphysical Poetry and the Greatness of Fulke Greville.” The Critical Review No. 8 (1965): 101-09.

[In the following essay, Inglis argues that Greville has been undeservedly neglected by critics and uses the poetry of Caelica to illustrate his claim that Greville's poetic works should be grouped with those of the later school of Metaphysical Poetry.]

At the beginning of Revaluation, Dr Leavis, in discussing The Oxford Book of Seventeenth Century Verse, remarks:

After ninety pages of … Fulke Greville, Chapman and Drayton, respectable figures who, if one works through their...

(The entire section is 4699 words.)

Joan Rees (essay date 1971)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Rees, Joan. “Political Poetry.” In Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, 1554-1628: A Critical Biography, pp. 119-38. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971.

[In the following excerpt, Rees examines how Greville's poetry reflects his political philosophy.]

The important part played in Greville's life by his political activity is obvious and the importance of political themes in his writing is no less so. The Life of Sidney is in large measure a political tract and there are political poems in Caelica. The treatises Of Monarchy and Of Warres indicate their material by their titles and a study of them at this point may fill out the...

(The entire section is 7687 words.)

Gary L. Litt (essay date 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Litt, Gary L. “‘Images of Life’: A Study of Narrative and Structure in Fulke Greville's Caelica.Studies in Philology LXIX, no. 2 (April 1972): 217-30.

[In the following essay, Litt analyzes Caelica, focusing on the structure of the work as a whole.]

The vogue of the Elizabethan sonnet sequence was short and, in terms of quality, if not quantity, relatively unproductive. Outside of the efforts of Shakespeare and Sidney there are no really impressive sequences, only impressive sonnets. The other sequences have been condemned to a literary limbo, and many deservedly so. In this respect we can accept Aikin's comment as axiomatic: “A bad...

(The entire section is 4790 words.)

G. F. Waller (essay date 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Waller, G. F. “Fulke Greville's Struggle with Calvinism.” Studia Neophilologica XLIV, no. 2 (1972): 295-314.

[In the following essay, Waller considers the influence of Calvinism on Greville's life and works.]


Burke's sage remark on the subjective reception of ideas is as relevant to sixteenth-century Calvinism as it was to the French Revolution—or, for that matter, as it is to modern existentialism. Ideas, he wrote, “entering into common life, like rays of light which pierce into a dense medium, are, by the laws of nature, refracted from their straight line.”1 Fulke Greville's commitment to Calvinism is a...

(The entire section is 7301 words.)

Richard Waswo (essay date 1972)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Waswo, Richard. “Critical Perspectives.” In The Fatal Mirror: Themes and Techniques in the Poetry of Fulke Greville, pp. 155-67. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1972.

[In the following excerpt, Waswo examines Greville's critical reception and the problems critics face when evaluating his work.]

The history of Fulke Greville's reputation as a poet may be regarded virtually as a belated footnote to that of John Donne. Critical respect in the poets' own age was shortly followed by almost total neglect. Although Greville passed unnoticed in Dr. Johnson's criticism of “metaphysical” excesses, he shared in the romantic revival of interest in...

(The entire section is 6093 words.)

David A. Roberts (essay date 1977)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Roberts, David A. “Fulke Greville's Aesthetic Reconsidered.” Studies in Philology LXXIV, no. 4 (October 1977): 388-405.

[In the following essay, Roberts explicates Greville's aesthetic as a poet.]


The recent interest in Fulke Greville's poetry has been attended by a parallel interest in the nature of Greville's thought on the ideals and functions of poetry. Unfortunately, though for good reasons, most modern interpretations of Greville's aesthetic have emphasized his didacticism at the expense of his lyricism, creating a dichotomy that Greville and his contemporaries would have found incongruous.1 Partly because...

(The entire section is 6024 words.)

June Dwyer (essay date 1981)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Dwyer, June. “Fulke Greville's Aesthetic: Another Perspective.” Studies in Philology LXXVIII, no. 3 (summer 1981): 255-74.

[In the following essay, Dwyer considers several of Greville's works in an attempt to define his aesthetic philosophy.]

Fulke Greville's work has always been considered opaque and difficult. Of late, critics seem wisely to have decided that an understanding of Greville's aesthetic philosophy is the best way to penetrate his obscurity. But this task, too, has proved a difficult one. Twice in the recent past this journal has published articles on Greville's poetic philosophy,1 each making valid points, but neither being...

(The entire section is 6972 words.)

Elaine Y. L. Ho (essay date 1992)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Ho, Elaine Y. L. “Fulke Greville's Caelica and the Calvinist Self.” Studies in English Literature 32, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 35-57.

[In the following essay, Ho offers an in-depth analysis of Caelica, focusing on what this work reveals about Greville's personal development and his aesthetic as a writer.]

Greville scholars and critics have always liked Caelica, for it offers a quasi-narrative from which teasing allusions to the writer's personal life and plentiful demonstrations of contextual influences seem available. First published as a sequence in 1633, with the poems arranged, according to Geoffrey Bullough, in the order they were...

(The entire section is 8785 words.)

Further Reading

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))


Levy, F. J. “Fulke Greville: The Courtier as Philosophic Poet.” Modern Language Quarterly 33, no. 4 (December 1972): 433-448.

Critical review of Joan Rees' Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke 1554-1628: A Critical Biography and other recent criticism that addresses inter-related issues of biography, poetic and personal philosophy.

Maclean, Hugh N. “Greville's ‘Poetic.’” Studies in Philology LXI, no. 2, (April 1964): 170-91.

Offers assessment of Greville's poet form, based on his comments about poetry, and sets it apart from the poetry and philosophy of Philip Sidney.


(The entire section is 145 words.)